NIU Classes Resume For The First Time Since Shooting Rampage

Northern+Illinois+University+student+Colleen+Burns%2C+42%2C+hugs+her+son%2C+Ryan%2C+as+they+visit+a+memorial+to+the+five+students+who+were+killed+on+Feb.+14%2C+as+classes+resume+at+the+university+in+Dekalb%2C+Ill.%2C+Monday%2C+Feb.+25%2C+2008.+%28AP+Photo%29

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast

Northern Illinois University student Colleen Burns, 42, hugs her son, Ryan, as they visit a memorial to the five students who were killed on Feb. 14, as classes resume at the university in Dekalb, Ill., Monday, Feb. 25, 2008. (AP Photo)

DEKALB, Ill– Northern Illinois University students began arriving on campus early Monday, ready to get on with their semesters even as the deadly shootage rampage of 10 days ago weighed heavily on their minds.

”It’s going to be a ‘lean on you’ type of day, ‘I’m here for you day,”’ said Jonathan Brock, a 25-year-old industrial management major from Chicago.

Students wearing red lapel pins in honor of their school colors returned to lectures and labs Monday as classes began for the first times since the Feb. 14 shootings, in which former NIU graduate student Steve Kazmierczak opened fire on students –killing five and wounding 16– before committing suicide.

Brock looked for a spot to write his thoughts on one of at least 10 large message boards set up on the campus, each crammed with condolences and words of encouragement since the shootings.

But even as he gazed on the memorials, Brock said he was ready to try to get back to a normal routine. ”You’ve got to move on,” he said.

Not that Monday, or the days to come, were expected to be normal.

”I don’t think it’s going to happen this semester for a lot of people,” said Dan Beno, a 20-year-old biology major from Beach Park.

NIU senior Kristen Bortolotti said the memories could be the biggest roadblock.

”It’s not necessarily that we’re scared that there’s going to be someone with a gun,” said the 24-year-old from Elgin. ”It’s the memories of what we saw.”

University President John G. Peters said a Sunday night memorial at the school’s Convocation Center –attended by more than 12,000 people– marked the end of the NIU community’s mourning period. He said he’s talked to students and they say they’re ready to move on together.

”They do need each other, and they do want each other,” Peters said early Monday.

Faculty still didn’t quite know what to expect, but said they were prepared for students to continue grieving, with hundreds of volunteer counselors fanning out to each classroom at the school with an enrollment of about 25,000.

Assistant marketing professor Kim Judson said she didn’t expect much talk of marketing on Monday.

”I want to give students a chance to talk,” she said.

At Sunday night’s memorial, five bouquets of red and white flowers were placed on the Convocation Center stage in honor of the students killed. Outside the arena, school officials posted a large banner reading, ”Forward, together forward.”

”This past week, I have seen despair and I have seen hope,” Peters told those gathered. ”I have seen deep sorrow of the five victims’ families, but I have seen your courage and I have seen your strength.”

Early in the hour-long service, a photo of each of the slain students was projected on screens around the arena as their names were read aloud. A choir sang the gospel hymn, ”Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

Several dignitaries spoke at the memorial, including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Illinois’ other senator –Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama– sat on the stage watching the proceedings, but did not make any remarks. Afterward, he met quietly with the family of at least one of the victims.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talked briefly about each victim: Daniel Parmenter, 20, remembered by an adviser as a ”gentle giant”; Catalina Garcia, 20, who wanted to be a teacher; Gayle Dubowski, 20, a gifted musician; Ryanne Mace, 19, who wanted to be a counselor; and Julianna Gehant, 32, a military veteran.

”Now they are lost, but still loved. Their memory is a blessing– not just because of their spirit and intelligence, their love and their laughter, their curiosity and their friendship,” Blagojevich said. ”Their memory is a blessing because it compels us all to search for meaning.”

Plans for a permanent memorial for the victims are still in their infancy. The scene of the shooting, Cole Hall, will be closed for the rest of the semester.

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